Torchlight Editorial on Michael Kenney

Let’s start by acknowledging one thing – Michael Kenney is the world’s worst infiltrator. He’s been hanging around the fringes of the Pittsburgh anarchist scene, being awkward, asking intrusive questions, and contributing nearly nothing for well over a year. He has never concealed his name, his affiliation with Pitt, or the fact that he’s doing research, although he doesn’t necessarily volunteer that information. Any anarchist in Pittsburgh could have outed him at any time just by looking at his faculty page on the Pitt web site, but until this week no one bothered.

Part of this carelessness can be charged to Kenney’s dorkishly harmless-seeming demeanor, and part to the fact that he never approached groups that do any vetting of participants. (He hung out at the Big Idea bookstore, but never joined the collective). Regardless, letting a counterterrorism researcher with ties to the FBI and Homeland Security hang around for as long as Kenney did is a serious failure of security culture.

Now that Kenney has finally been exposed however, it’s time to ask what the hell he was doing here in the first place. According to his 23 page resume, Kenney has researched networks of Salafi propagandists in England, “cyberterrorism”, Osama bin Laden, and the Colombian cocaine trade. How did Pittsburgh’s small and fragmented anarchist community manage to crack that lineup? Granted he lives here, which would have made infiltrating anarchist gatherings in, say, Seattle, impractical, but the question of why he bothered remains. Would Studies in Conflict and Terrorism (a favorite outlet of Kenney’s) really publish a paper on potluck brunch fundraisers and prisoner correspondence? It seems unlikely.

One potential clue comes from his faculty bio. Towards the bottom of the Publications section we find the following line:

Idaho National Laboratory/Battelle Memorial Inc., “Cyber Threat Actors Research,” co-PI (with Phil Williams) on $24,939 contract, October 1, 2016-September 30, 2017.

Notice the part about the 25 grand contract? Maybe Kenney’s moonlighting again. Maybe somebody dangled a payday and a chance to gather enough material for a book in front of him and he jumped on it. If that’s the case we need to find out who his client is, because Kenney probably isn’t their only agent.

In the coming days Torchlight will be analyzing Kenney’s resume, publications, collaborators, and past clients in an attempt to shed more light on his current activities. As always, please send any relevant information to